Posted on: 10/12/2021

We live in a world of myriad opportunities, one in which the temptation is strong for adults and children alike to over-schedule ourselves as we attempt to take advantage of the wealth of activities on offer. This can be a very good thing in many ways: one of the pillars of mental health is to keep learning, to keep growing, to discover new things and forge new relationships. But there is a danger, too, that we might over-commit ourselves or our children to a timetable of class after class, activity after activity, in an effort to ‘make the most’ of ourselves and our time.

There is another way to ‘make the most’ of ourselves, though, and that is through self-care. St. Helen’s College is, as all parents, children and staff will know, an extremely busy place. Every day, pupils engage in a different series of academic lessons and enrichment activities, physical play and education, team sports, art, music and drama opportunities, performance rehearsals, technological discovery, clubs and social gatherings. We are proud of the diverse and challenging nature of the education we offer, but we are also particularly proud of the ways in which we are able to teach children about the importance of self-care and to offer opportunities for self-care here at school too.

Through teaching Mindfulness and offering moments of stillness and Mindfulness practice in assemblies, we equip children with the tools to calm their minds, recognise unhealthy thoughts and regroup mentally and emotionally. In Philosophy for Children sessions, too, pupils are encouraged to listen without judgement and to take time to examine, formulate and accept thoughts and feelings that may be alien or worrying at first. Our Wellbeing Focus Days give the opportunity for staff and children to step outside of the ‘daily grind’ (fun as it so often is) and consider how we can support ourselves and others to stay healthy and well, both mentally and physically. Through these days, children are introduced to simple practices like journal keeping or art therapy that can really help to underpin positive and ongoing mental health.

Class teachers run regular tutorials and circle time sessions with their classes, both individually and as a group, which give children the opportunity to talk about their experiences and make sense of them as well as to consider both their own targets and how they may best support one another. We are enormously fortunate, too, to have Mrs. Brooker, our qualified school counsellor, who is able to offer children ‘time to talk’ in a non-judgemental space. When we experience the power of someone else being able to hold our feelings, quietly and strongly, with unconditional positive regard for us, we learn that we can do this for ourselves, too. What an amazing thing to learn at a young age.

For those who work in schools, finding time for self-care in term time can be a tricky business, and never more so than over the last two years since the onset of the Covid pandemic. This term, several staff members have suffered from Covid and other winter bugs; many are, at this stage of term, quietly enduring mounting tiredness and the onset of burnout: the mornings are early and cold, the late nights and evening meetings take their toll. The emotional strain of trying to be and give of your best self, all day every day, in order to enrich children’s experiences and give them the correct support and challenge can be exhausting. Add in an inspection week for good measure and it has undeniably been a tiring term. It is a testament to our amazing staff and their genuine love for your children that they do not complain and that they continue to give of their best selves every single day. My hope for each one of them is that they find time for plenty of self-care over the Christmas break.

It is, as you will all know, extremely tough to be a parent, too. Sleep-deprived nights, early mornings, emotional children, hormones, juggling those work/home schedules, attempting to make sense of homework, trying to find time to be a good partner, a good mother, a good father, a good daughter, a good son, a good friend, being everyone’s taxi can be overwhelming at times. So it is crucial that you take time for self-care too, whether that is an hour at the gym, curling up with a cup of tea and a good book, social time with friends and family or just a few minutes of quiet time to focus on your own breathing. Taking time for yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity. It can and will support you in being ‘good’ or ‘useful’ to others. I recommend, in particular, trying a simple Mindfulness practice each day or as often in the week as you are able. 

The St. Helen’s College community has always been wonderful at taking care of each other. Now, ahead of the busy festive period, I encourage us all not to feel guilty about taking time to care for ourselves.

Happy Christmas to you all.

Mrs. Drummond